Having a dream

There are phrases and sentences that plant themselves in our memories and never go away. We may not always be aware of them–but they tend to surface at unexpected moments.

Sometimes they come from books and movies:

  • Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn. (Gone with the Wind)
  • Call me Ishmael. (Moby Dick)
  • We need a bigger boat. (Jaws)
  • A great man is passing by. (To Kill a Mockingbird)

Sometimes they come from songs:

  • The sound of silence (Simon and Garfunkel)
  • When will we ever learn? (Peter, Paul, and Mary)

And sometimes they come from political speeches:

  • Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country. (John Kennedy)
  • We have nothing to fear but fear itself. (Franklin D. Roosevelt)
  • I have a dream… (Martin Luther King)

While they come to us in a context, we make them our own. And these last few weeks/months, the quote that keeps rattling around in my mind is Martin Luther King’s: “I have a dream…”

I dream of a day when we will see each other as brothers and sisters…when we will delight in our diversity–of color, ethnicity, gender, sexual identity, age, religion…when we will honor what each one can bring to the table.

I dream of a day when economic disparities are a thing of the past…when each one has enough to meet their physical needs…when money is no longer what makes someone “important.”

I dream of a day when we understand the interconnectedness of all of creation…when we realize that we are not called to “subdue” the earth, destroying the environment we live in, but that we are called to be stewards.

I dream of a day when learning and knowledge are seen as important…and are available to all…when we see that both religion and science have something to teach us.

But all of this has to be more than merely a dream. Dreams can be ephemeral, vanishing in the morning when we wake up. For dreams to be more than words, actions have to be added to words.

Sometimes it’s difficult to determine what those actions should be, because each of us is different. Some of us are able to be activists, in the forefront of pushing for change. Some of us work better behind the scenes. Some of us are wordsmiths, creating blogs/plays/poems/stories that challenge who and what we are and call us to be better.

And so I say with Dr. King,

I have a dream today….I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low. The rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight. And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together. This is our hope….With this faith we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith we will he able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will he free one day.

 

When is the dawn?

There’s a rabbinical story that I have always liked. There are several versions, but it goes something like this:

A rabbi was talking with his students. He asked them this question: “How can we know when it is dawn–the time at which the night ends and the day begins?”

The students were puzzled. One asked, “Is it when you can look from a distance and tell whether it’s your house or your neighbor’s?”

“No,” the rabbi answered.

“Is it when you can tell your animal in the field from your neighbor’s?”

“No,” answered the rabbi again.

“Is it when you can see a flower in the garden and distinguish its color?”

The rabbi was frustrated. “Why do you think only in terms of separations? The dawn has come when you can look into the face of another human being and recognize that they are your sister or your brother. Until then, it is still night.”

That story seems particularly appropriate in light of the last couple of weeks…when we seem to have been unable or unwilling to see the humanity of those we disagree with.

For some right now, it seems as though we are in night, a night that feels as though it will never end.

And yet…

There’s another saying as well that seems appropriate. It first seems to have appeared in 1650 and has been used in various ways, including in a recent movie about England in World War II: “It’s always darkest right before the dawn.”

And that’s what gives me hope.

In what appears to be a very dark time, I have hope that the dawn is not far away…that there are those who can help us see it coming as they help us see the sister and brother in “the other.”

“12 Years a Slave”…

We went to see this movie last night – 12 Years a Slave. It’s a powerful movie…I can’t say that I’m glad I saw it, but it’s one that desperately needs to be seen. As a white woman, it left me with very uncomfortable feelings on a number of levels.

It’s an unflinching look at how American slavery corrupted (and really continues to corrupt). Morally and physically.

None of the characters in this movie are caricatures. They are (and were) real people, and I think that’s part of what gives this movie its impact. This is a true story–not something that someone merely imagined!

Solomon_Northup_001What would it have been like to be a free Negro like Solomon Northup…but always looking over your shoulder in fear of being kidnapped and sold into slavery?

The relationships between husbands and wives were impacted–and in significant ways, poisoned–because of the unspoken “right” of the master to any of the women he “owned.”

Even the “good” master, who tried to be humane, wasn’t immune. While he acknowledged the loss one of his slaves experienced at being separated from her children, his wife–who was also at least somewhat sympathetic–still treated the grieving mother as one might treat a loved dog, telling her that after rest and something to eat, she would forget the children. And as the woman continued to grieve, the white mistress eventually lost patience with the ongoing crying.

And the experience gets even more powerful as the movie continues. Seeing the torture/cruelty experienced by those who had no rights–and the way in which it was simply part of the daily experience has left me wondering at our ability to be cruel to each other. What did slave children think when they played in a yard where they saw someone being hung? What did they learn when they saw someone’s back flayed because she had slipped over to another plantation to get some soap so she could be clean? What did young slave girls feel when the master raped them…and beat them? And what did mothers feel when they saw that happening? and fathers, knowing they couldn’t save their children?

I cannot imagine how Solomon Northup survived. But even more than that, I am appalled at the evidence of our inhumanity towards each other–and yet…at least sometimes…the signs of humanity even in the middle of such horrible situations–and the determination of people to find ways to not just survive, but also to live.

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas

My husband and I went to see this movie (The Boy in the Striped Pajamas) last night…and I would highly recommend it. Just don’t take young children!

There are a couple of places in the film that I might take mild issue with the premise–or the way a situation is portrayed. But overall, it drew me in from the very beginning–drew me in, even though I had fear as to the way it was going to turn out.

Very briefly, it’s the story of Bruno, an 8-year-old German boy sometime in the early 1940s. He moves from Berlin to the countryside with his family because his father–a soldier–has received a major promotion to be in charge of a “camp.” Bruno makes friends with another 8-year-old boy on the other side of the fence in the camp. The movie deals with how this experience impacts the entire family.

One of the things I appreciated was that the characters were not caricatures like you often see in movies dealing with the Holocaust. You began to see how people could get drawn into horrendous situations… Yes, there is cruelty, but there is also humanity…and I think that’s what got to me so much.

The violence is not overt and in-your-face…and in some ways that makes it worse. At least it did for me, because my imagination can be quite vivid.

How does one turn away from evil when at first it doesn’t seem so bad?

And unfortunately, I can’t say that what occurred in the movie was just a historical event that took place before I was born. That type of seeing “the other” as an “it” instead of a human being is still going on.

When will we learn? When will we learn to see each other as Bruno sees Schmuel?